Exodus 3 contains the story of the burning bush. Remember what happens? Moses is minding his own business tending his flock and an “angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush”. That wasn’t exactly what he expected when he got up that morning – a bush that didn’t burn – “the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed”. Moses is curious and decides to try and figure out what is going on and then surprise number two comes – it starts talking to him. Can you imagine the surprise? “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am”. I’m not sure I would have responded that way – after all – talking bushes that are on fire don’t happen every day out tending the sheep.
But God gives His resume, and it is pretty impressive: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”. There is some history here. And Moses understands that this is no normal connection. “Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God”. He is in the presence of the almighty God. God tells Moses He has been paying attention:
- “seen the affliction
- heard their cry
- know their sufferings
- come down to deliver them
- bring them up”
God knows the situation – He has seen and heard and is taking action. But His plan is to do it through Moses. “Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt”. Can you imagine the surprise here? Moses is a sheep herder who has been running from Pharaoh. Sure that king is dead and a new leader is on the throne but surely he has heard of Moses. So we begin a bit of positioning:
- “But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh”
- And God replies “But I will be with you”
- Moses asks who do I say that you are
- And God responds with “I am who I am….Say this….I am has sent me”
So Moses is trying to understand how he is going to pull this off. God gives him some direct instruction: “Go and gather the elders of Israel together….they will listen to your voice”. Moses has to be wondering how this is going to work out. First he has to get the leaders to listen to him. Then God drops this bombshell on him: “I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go….so I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it”. So Moses – know that this plan isn’t going to work at first. The king won’t let you go. But just go tell the elders what you are to do. Can you imagine what Moses is thinking now? But God assures him with this outcome: “you shall plunder the Egyptians”. It isn’t going to be quick or easy – but God has a plan. All He is asking is for obedience. He will take care of the results. That is the key. What God originates, God orchestrates. That will never be more true than the story of Moses and Pharaoh!
Exodus 2 has the very familiar story of God’s way to keep his servant in the picture. All boys were to be killed, but a son was born and hid for three months before he could no longer be kept hidden. His mother then took a “basket made of bulrushes….put the child in it and placed it among the reeds by the river bank”. She was trying to find a way to keep her son safe. She then asks his older sister to watch from the river bank and be sure he was safe. So far seems like a good plan – but then God gets involved and makes it a great plan.
By chance “the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river….saw the basket….took it….opened it….saw the child….took pity on him”. By chance – or not. God had a plan – and it worked as designed. Of course this was only the first part of the plan. Since his sister was watching from the bank – she came to Pharaoh’s daughter and asked “shall I go and call you a nurse” and of course was sent to do so. Guess who she went and got – his mother – and Pharaoh’s daughter told here to “take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages”. So not only was the baby safe, but mom is getting paid to take care of him. That is a pretty good plan.
“When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses”. Moses has been raised by his mom although he became Pharaoh’s daughters son. Then comes a turning point in his life. While he was minding his own business “he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew….he looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand”. No matter how you want to look at it – Moses murdered this Egyptian. And the bad news was that although he thought is was done in private, he soon found out it was anything but private. The next day in fact, “two Hebrews were struggling….he said to the man in the wrong, “Why do you strike your companion….Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” So this creates some real problems for Moses.
“When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses….but Moses fled”. He was out in the land of Midian and came upon some shepherds who were picking on the dauthters of the priest of Midian. That nets him a wife – Zipporah who was given him by he father as Moses was invited to stay with them. She has a son called Gershom. But things were getting worse for the Israelites. “The people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help….Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God….God heard their groaning….God saw the people of Israel – and God knew”. Moses life was protected by God because he was a man for a very big job. He certainly wasn’t a perfect man – he was a murderer and hunted by the king. But God has a plan and we will see him used of God!
Exodus 1 changes everything in the land of Egypt. “Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation”. There is a changing of the guard as the generation of Joseph is all gone. That didn’t stop the growth though: “the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly….multiplied and grew exceedingly strong…. the land was filled with them”. God’s promises pass through the generations. What he said to Abraham continues to be manifested in his descendants – they are growing exponentially.
But there was “a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph”. This is a mere generation later – but what Joseph had achieved was now forgotten. New leadership is on the scene and things are going to change. Fear sets in – the new king is afraid that the Israelites will join his enemies and become a liability, so he decides to “taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens”. He felt the need to try and contain their multiplication somehow. Keep them so busy and tired they don’t have time to have kids. But it doesn’t work.
“But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied….the more they spread abroad…..the Egyptians were in dread….they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves….made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick….all kinds of work in the field….made them work as slaves”. The strategy was pretty straightforward. Make them work hard – make their lives bitter making bricks and mortar and also work in the field. They go from being the chosen during Joseph’s time to now mere slaves and very abused slaves at that. But this isn’t working either as they still continue to multiply. So the king decides to try another approach.
He tells the midwives to kill all new babies that are born male. That is pretty harsh. The “midwives feared God” and ignored his request. He asks them why and they make up a lame excuse. All the while “the people multiplied and grew very strong”. Things are just not working for the king. He is continuing to lose this battle. In fact – because the midwives feared God rather than the king – God begins to bless them with families too. Things are really getting out of hand. Now the king goes to another extreme: “Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live”. He is commanding his people to get rid of the baby boys. They are to be thrown into the river. That doesn’t look like a very good way for God’s promise to be fulfilled. But we’ll see what God does with this attempt to thwart His plans.
Genesis 50 ends the first book of the Old Testament. Jacob is dead and now Joseph is left to keep his request – to take him back to the home land and bury him there. Joseph had his servants prepare Jacobs body “and the Egyptians wept for him seventy days”. They knew how to mourn a loss. Joseph goes to Pharaoh to appeal for some time to make the trip which Pharaoh grants with Joseph’s promise to return. Joseph’s request was “let me please go up and bury my father. Then I will return”. Undoubtedly Pharaoh has some apprehension about letting his number two man go – but he knows it is important to everyone.
So Joseph takes off “with a very great company” and they begin their journey. After they cross the Jordan they “lamented there with a very great and grievous lamentation, and he made a mourning for his father seven days”. Are you doing the math here – it is like 77 plus days so far of mourning – and they are still on the journey. They get to the place Jacob had asked to be buried and “his sons did for him as he had commanded them….carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave of the field at Machpelah”. Long trip but the group does as Jacob requested and now he is buried in Canaan with his ancestors.
But the brothers are now wondering what is ahead for them since dad is now dead and buried. They were worried that with Jacob out of the picture Joseph may take out some hostility toward them for what they had done years ago. So they came to Joseph and said: “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you”. They really are fearful. But the response they got was likely not what they expected. “Joseph wept when they spoke to him” and then he said “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today….So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones”. Some of the most famous words in all of scripture – you meant it for evil but God meant it for good. Joseph understood that God’s plan trumps any human plan. God’s plan is always the plan that wins out. He is truly aligned with the Master’s plan and realizes that the evil was turned to good!
So asvJoseph shares his heart, “he comforted them and spoke kindly to them”. He had every right to be upset and to take revenge if you ask the world. But Joseph chose to love and forgive. He chose to enjoy life and follow God’s plan. And as a result he was the main man in Egypt and lived a blessed life which included living to be 110 years old. He also “saw Ephraim’s children of the third generation”. He was a very blessed great-great grandpa. As he prepares to die, he asks his sons to listen as he told them “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here”. He knew there was much more to the story!
Genesis 49 is the last interaction between Jacob and his sons. He asks them to gather “that I may tell you what shall happen to you in days to come”. What a legacy Jacob has. He has 12 sons and now is giving them a glimpse of the future as he tells them the future and then blesses them appropriately. What a powerful way to end life – in the presence of your sons – giving them the blessing and a picture of their future. Here are the key things he shared for each of the 12:
“Reuben – preeminent in dignity….preeminent in power…. Unstable as water….shall not have preeminence, because you went up to your father’s bed; then you defiled it
- Simeon and Levi – weapons of violence are their swords….in their anger they killed men….Cursed be their anger
- Judah – your brothers shall praise you….bow down before you….scepter shall not depart
- Zebulun – dwell at the shore….haven for ships
- Issachar – strong donkey….resting place was good….land was pleasant…. a servant at forced labor
- Dan – shall judge his people….serpent in the way….viper by the path
- Gad - raiders shall raid….he shall raid at their heels
- Asher – food shall be rich
- Naphtali – doe let loose that bears beautiful fawns
- Joseph – fruitful bough….arms were made agile by the hands of the Mighty One
- Benjamin – ravenous wolf”
“This is what their father said to them as he blessed them, blessing each with the blessing suitable to him”. Jacob has blessed each one and foretold a bit of their future. The first three boys didn’t do well growing up – sex and violence create issues. It was son #4 that begins to please Jacob. There are a couple others in the clan that have issues as well – Jacob certainly has diversity in his offspring. But now he has finished his life and is ready to die.
He asks them to “bury me with my fathers” back home. He wants to be laid alongside “Abraham and Sarah his wife….Isaac and Rebekah his wife, and Leah”. Definitelya family burial site. After giving his final wishes Jacob is ready to give it up. “When Jacob finished commanding his sons, he drew up his feet into the bed and breathed his last and was gathered to his people”. He has lived a very full life and has completed what he wanted to get done.
Genesis 48 is winding down Jacob (Israel’s) life. Joseph gets notified “your father is ill” and takes his two boys and goes to see his father. When he arrives “Israel summoned his strength and sat up in bed”. This is the last interaction Joseph and his dad will likely have. And Israel puts all he has into it to make it special. “I never expected to see your face; and behold, God has let me see your offspring also”. This is a big deal. Israel had been led to believe that Joseph was dead – but now he has not only seen his son – but his grandsons as well. So he wants to pass on what God had given to him. “Bring them to me, please, that I may bless them”.
Unless you have experienced this kind of thing first hand – it may not seem all that important. But I recall vividly as I lay in the hospital prior to my heart surgery that I might not get to see my kids again, and certainly to experience the grandkids that weren’t born yet. Looking back God’s grace in allowing me to live through that surgery and heart issue is a blessing I can’t really explain. It truly has been unmeasurable in joy and the happiness it has brought. I understand how Jacob must have felt – and how blessed he was.
He places his hands on the heads of Manasseh and Ephraim and blesses Joseph and the boys: “The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys; and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth”. Have you ever done this for your kids – to take the time and place your hands on them and ask God’s blessing. It is a powerful thing to do.
But Joseph realizes his father’s hands were backward. “Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand on the head of Ephraim, it displeased him, and he took his father’s hand to move it….. Not this way, my father….But his father refused and said his younger brother shall be greater”. This time the blessing was passed intentionally to the younger brother – not stolen like it was when Jacob received it from Isaac through deceiving his father. Now he intentionally blesses Ephraim the younger of the two. He is “about to die….but God will be with you” as he ends his blessing. The power of a blessing is so real. Jacob is very intentional in how he passes it.
Genesis 47 has the introduction of Joseph’s family to Pharaoh. First Joseph brings in 5 of the best men – and Pharaoh is pleased and tells Joseph to “settle your father and your brothers in the best of the land”. Not bad for a kid that was bought into slavery some years ago – he is able to provide the best land in the world to his family. But Pharaoh is also doing well in this deal – Joseph has multiplied his position and he sees another opportunity. If Joseph was good – maybe some of the others are good too. So Pharaoh says “if you know any able men among them, put them in charge of my livestock”. He wouldn’t mind having another good man or two like Joseph on his staff.
Then Joseph brings in his father and “Jacob blessed Pharaoh”. Jacob is 130 years old now – and they talk about his age and the opportunity that Pharaoh is giving them. Joseph has done well for his family. But he hasn’t lost sight of his job either. Back in the real world – the famine continues and now people are running out of money. So Joseph goes to the next level – trading livestock for food. “Give your livestock, and I will give you food in exchange for your livestock, if your money is gone”. They come to him with a problem – they are all broke – and he gives them a creative alternative – give me your livestock. That begins accumulation of another asset for Pharaoh – who now has all the money in the land thanks to Joseph’s management.
That doesn’t last long – soon the livestock has all been traded for food and now they come again. Joseph has another trick up his sleeve. “Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh, for all the Egyptians sold their fields, because the famine was severe on them….he made servants of them from one end of Egypt to the other”. Joseph not only got the land – all of it except that which belongs to the priests – but also got their labor. They are now slaves to the Pharaoh. And the amazing thing about it – they are happy to be that way: “You have saved our lives; may it please my lord, we will be servants to Pharaoh”. The reality is that the people have nothing left – Joseph now has all the money, livestock, land and even their future.
But here is the magic in his genius – he lets them be part of going the next step – multiplying the assets. He gave them seed to sow the land which is now Pharaoh’s – but in exchange they need to give back 1/5th of the production. So Joseph has no costs other than the seed provided to replenish the granaries. He is going to leverage his business sense to prepare for the future. Jacob meanwhile is doing well with his clan. They settled in Goshen and “they gained possessions in it, and were fruitful and multiplied greatly”. Obviously God is blessing the entire batch from Jacob through Joseph and the rest. Jacob is now 147 and calls Joseph to his side as he prepares to die and makes him promise: “Do not bury me in Egypt”. He wants to go home to be buried. Joseph agrees to the request.
Genesis 46 is a whole lot of math. Jacob (Israel) is pondering a trip to see Joseph in Egypt. “God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said….”I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation…. Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes”. Pretty clear direction. Jacob doesn’t have to interpret much here. God has given him a clear picture of what he is to do. Load up all his stuff – head to Egypt – see Joseph – and there he will die.
So they load up the wagons and head out. It was no little deal, and this chapter captures that reality. Jacob has sons and a daughter from four women who now have their own sons. We see that list here:
- Leah – has 33 in her lineage
- Zilpah (Leah’s servant) – has sixteen in her lineage
- Rachel – has fourteen in her lineage
- Bilhah – has seven in her lineage
If we total it all up there are 70 folks who made up “all the persons of the house of Jacob who came into Egypt”. Of course that is just the main family – then there were all the servants and flocks as well. It was quite a deal to move all of them to Egypt.
But off they went. “Joseph prepared his chariot and went up to meet Israel”. He didn’t wait for his arrival – he headed out to meet them. And when he did – Joseph was overwhelmed with joy. “He presented himself to him and fell on his neck and wept on his neck a good while”. This was a huge family reunion. All of the family was there. I can’t imagine the chaos of moving that many people and animals in wagons and on foot – but that didn’t distract Joseph from what his mission was – to see his dad again.
Jacob had his dream fulfilled. His response was “Now let me die, since I have seen your face and know that you are still alive”. He has been dreaming for this day believing it would never come. Now he is reunited with the son he had been led to believe was long dead. That is quite a bit for an old man to take in. He is now ready to just pass on. But that is not the plan. They are to settle in Goshen and take care of their flocks and herds. Joseph is now taking care of the family – the torch is being passed.
Genesis 45 has Joseph exploding with emotion – he just can’t hold it in any longer. “Make everyone go out from me…. Joseph made himself known to his brothers”. The reunion is overwhelming to Joseph and he wept aloud – very loudly – so all in the household heard it. It has been years leading up to this and now it has come. Joseph, in all of his power and leading, is still a person with feelings and emotion and they come out here. The response of his brothers is a bit different at first: “they were dismayed at his presence”. Whoa – this is a shocker. They don’t know what to make of it at first. Then Joseph tells them the story.
“God sent me before you to preserve life…. two years, and there are yet five years….God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors…..it was not you who sent me here, but God”. Joseph does not blame his brothers for selling him into slavery. That had to be the initial response many years ago – but he clearly sees God’s hand and plan in this. He could have chosen a much different response. He could have been waiting for the opportunity to punish his brothers and cause them pain. He could have been controlled by bitterness and a desire for revenge. But he chose to focus on God’s plan and see God’s vision. He chose to offer grace and mercy rather than be controlled by the desire to pay back.
Joseph tells his brothers to go get his dad. He sends them with this message: “God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; do not tarry”. He wants a family reunion, and that means getting everyone to Egypt. As he sends them away “he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them”. The emotion is now everywhere, even spilling to those around him. “It pleased Pharaoh and his servants”. Joseph has earned a place of esteem and seeing him happy was a joy to all around him. Now all those years of faithful service to God in his place with Pharaoh is bringing a blessing. Pharaoh invites the brothers to bring all of Jacob’s tribe there. “I will give you the best of the land of Egypt….have no concern for your goods, for the best of all the land of Egypt is yours”. Joseph has not just found a little favor – he has literally been given the keys to the kingdom.
The brothers return home and give Jacob the story. “Joseph is still alive, and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt”. Jacob doesn’t buy it at first. In fact “his heart became numb, for he did not believe them”. After all, their track record of telling the truth hasn’t been so hot. Why should he believe them now? But as they share the story Jacob comes to believe and finally says “It is enough; Joseph my son is still alive. I will go and see him before I die”. Can you imagine the emotion Jacob must be going through? The son he loved most was dead, but now alive. What an amazing turn of events for this old man.
Genesis 44 has the 10 brothers returning to gain release of the one left behind, but also to get more grain as they had again run out. This time Joseph has his steward fill the bags full and again put the money back in the sacks – but also says “put my cup, the silver cup, in the mouth of the sack of the youngest”. The stakes are going up as Benjamin is being set up this time as the fall guy. Is Joseph toying with his brothers? No – that is not his motivation. He wants restoration and his family to be united. He wants people together. It is an elaborate scheme – but his mission is clear – he wants to be able to have forgiveness and redemption for all.
The brothers are barely out of town when Joseph sends his guys after to see what happened to his silver cup. When the brothers are stopped – they are sure there is a mistake this time. They had brought back the money from the first trip and paid double this time. They say “Why does my lord speak such words as these? Far be it from your servants to do such a thing”. There was no way they were going to have the same problem again. But again, the money is in the sacks, and “the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack”. So they are marched back to Joseph’s place and questioned.
The plan is going as expected and Joseph now says “Only the man in whose hand the cup was found shall be my servant”. It couldn’t be going worse for the brothers. They had promised nothing would happen to Benjamin but now he is the apparent thief. Judah steps in to try and resolve things. He begins by respectfully making sure Joseph was being revered at the level he should be: “you are like Pharaoh himself”. Joseph may have been their brother but he held their lives in his hand. He had total power and could do whatever he wished.
Judah recalls the story of their last journey and how they begged Jacob to let Benjamin come along. And he shared how important Benjamin was to Jacob: “his life is bound up in the boy’s life, as soon as he sees that the boy is not with us, he will die”. There is some real sharing happening here – and Joseph learns that Jacob still loves him and is still grieving over what has been portrayed as his death. Judah tries to convince Joseph to let Benjamin return by offering himself in exchange. He ends trying to appeal to his emotions: “I fear to see the evil that would find my father” if Benjamin does not return home. Restoration is soon coming – God’s plan is in full motion!